IMPORTANT: Letter to Etsy Inc. Board of Directors, July 16 2018 http://bit.ly/lettertoetsy
Last month I shared a personal statement about changes to values at Etsy and called for fellow makers who had similar concerns to participate in organizing a day of action together with a list of suggested demands to be written collectively. This action is not in retaliation for fee hikes but in response to a radical change in values and culture at Etsy. Not everyone is concerned about changes to values at Etsy but there are many who are. One voice is easily dismissed so for any action to have meaning we need many voices and perspectives. The following are some of the statements submitted by sellers, current/former employees, team organizers, and concerned consumers so far. If you want to add your own statement to be presented to Etsy on July 16th please use this form, to share your concerns or participate in organizing visit the original call to action here.
I actually had a back seat view what I consider a hostile takeover of the world’s sweetheart maker market. In November 2016 I was flown to New York to interview for an executive level position at Etsy for a newly created position, Director of Values Alignment. As you can imagine, this was a dream job where I could have helped indie makers and the side hustle economy from a very high profile position. However, they never filled the role because the board began ousting the sitting CEO & champion of business-as-kindness, Chad Dickerson, that same month. (Reference: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/25/business/etsy-josh-silverman.html)
When my interview took place, Etsy had recently instituted one of the most progressive paid-family leave policies in America, making headlines around the world. I speculate that the position I interviewed for may have caused the board to have a major fit because they have since shown they could care less by dropping the Benefit Corp designation along the way. I was interviewed by eight executives, most of whom appear to no longer be working there. These people were authentic and brilliant humans with incredibly forward-thinking strategies around government policymaking for gig workers, the environment and social equity. During the interview, I asked if they were creating this position in response to some threat, and was flatly told no, but there was noticeable tension when I asked the question. The new CEO installed by the board, a former eBay executive, has nonchalantly gutted the core values of Etsy – throwing the baby out with the bathwater – instead of protecting the “doing good” aspect that brought the brand so much value. Instead of gaining incredible (free) PR from these progressive business policies and activities and making the world a better place, Etsy’s new path is to raise the selling fees, ostensibly in order to advertise the platform. Both ways attract new customers and cost money, just from different departments: the first is win-win-win, the other is win-lose-lose, and you can guess who’s winning.
This inside glimpse of old school vulture capital devouring a shining example of corporate responsibility made me realize it was time to diversify my market channels. It’s likely that Etsy is going to dilute its brand value and I no longer have warm and fuzzies when I think about being an Etsian. While I still maintain my shop on their marketplace, I do not drive any traffic there. Instead, I’ve created my own online storefront store (www.spiralspectrum.com) which has outperformed my Etsy shop, more than doubling my business.
As a serial social entrepreneur who has actually built a business based on ethics and succeeded (as co-founder and former co-owner of a triple bottom line organic cafe in Central Florida that reached over $1.5m in annual revenue from a single footprint the year of my exit) I know you can make money, do good and do right by your people. I’m a proud localist and co-founder of my city’s original local first movement. I hosted an FM dial radio talk show for a decade centered around local economies and social equity. As the “almost” Values Alignment Director of Etsy, this takeover felt personal. I wept for the tremendous loss of opportunity that has been canceled by the installation of this new CEO and fear this sets a terrible precedent for founders looking for the B Corp status to protect the values of the businesses they build post exit.
Julie Wilder, Etsy Seller & Almost Employee (was interviewed for a newly forming Director of Values Alignment – a position that they never hired for due to the hostile takeover underway.)
I no longer feel confident that Etsy is building for the long term, to keep this site autonomous. It’s almost certain that as Etsy grows, they’re preparing to sell to a larger corporation, and if I wanted to be on Amazon, I would be on Amazon. Etsy is supposed to be an alternative for shoppers looking for the normal, boring and mundane — where we can still be ever so slightly against the grain in a world where commodification and effectiveness reign supreme. While I’m ok with growth, and am not really in opposition to the raise in fees (as a seller), I’m not ok with the fact that the home for my products is turning into West Elm meets Amazon meets EVERYTHING ELSE. The company is quickly losing the personal touches that made it feel great to be a part of, in the first place.
Anonymous – Seller, Shopper, Employee (I wish to remain anonymous because these are hard opinions to express! I hope that enough of us raise our voices and that those voices are taken seriously.)
I was disappointed when Etsy gave up its BCorp status last November. But hey, BCorp doesn’t define values, it assesses them. I had hoped that the values that make Etsy, well…Etsy, would still remain. That value is a steadfast commitment to handmade and the hands that make. I can’t help but feel that the current strategies are falling a bit flat, and I believe that they aren’t working because there is a noticeable disconnect between changes/actions and the values that made us fall in love in the first place. For me, Etsy is the anti-Amazon. The anti cheap plastic crap delivered at your door before anyone has a chance to second guess another soul-less buy. There’s a heart in my Etsy, and I’m worried they are drifting further away from its connection to sellers. I am both a buyer and a seller. And I am ok with changes to fees/structure IF they are connected to meaningful marketing that attracts more buyers. Greater transparency would go a long way in making me feel better about the changes.
Laurie Dolhan, Etsy seller & shopper
I first stumbled upon Etsy as a shopper in the early days of the company starting up. The company values were front and centre, and I was drawn to what made Etsy different. I opened my own shop in 2014 and became a team captain the following year. In those early days I remember attending a maker cities education event in Victoria and feeling so inspired valued as an artist. At that time my business was very small but bit was filling gaps that my paid job didn’t cover. Little did I know that a few years later one of the presenters and I would cross paths again unrelated to Etsy and it would lead to a union organizing drive which would be career changing for me for the better. The leadership skills I developed as an Etsy captain played a role in having the confidence to stand by my integrity and leave that job when I could no longer ignore the actions of the management. Now my creative business is still small but is essential to our family finances.
At the first Captain’s Summit I attended the Etsy staff, presenters and other captains all exuded the values I’d read about. Even down to the cutlery and plates small choices were made that aligned with sustainability, and environmental responsibility. I sat at my first Eastsy lunch with a staff member from the New York office and he thanked me for all the work I was doing in my community for makers. This year at the summit, guests from the New York office flew in to deliver their presentations and didn’t stay to mingle with the summit participants.
The first Etsy Made in Canada that we organized in our small City drew drew a crowd of 3000 shoppers. We had identified the gap in our community was for a craft show that was well attended but affordable and accessible to makers. Our grass roots event was (and still is) totally run by a team of sellers who volunteer their own time. One of the Etsy Canada staff flew out to attend the event and represent the company. She set to work as an extra volunteer for the day. Later we met for dinner and I was able to give honest feedback about what was working well and where I could see improvements both at the national level and company wide. She unfortunately is no longer working for Etsy and neither is the staff member who spearheaded the Etsy MIC movement. I worry about how much longer Etsy will support the Made in Canada events. This year at the summit I was discouraged to continue on running the event using a non profit model and felt really pushed to switch it to a for profit event. This caused some big tension among our team leadership and we eventually decided to split and run two separate events in our community.
On the application forms for Etsy sponsorship dollars for the first two years we hosted the Etsy Made in Canada, we needed to demonstrate how our event aligned with the company values. This year we decided to offer the sponsorship dollars back to the maker community in the form of bursaries to reduce the entrance fees for those who could otherwise not afford to participate. I was excited to put this on our Etsy sponsorship documents, however there was nowhere to include it. The values question was not there, and there was nowhere to put this information.
This past year since the change in CEO of Etsy, there has been a drift away from the core company values. Sellers are pushed to offer frequent sales and free shipping at their own cost in order to participate in site wide events that are said to boost traffic. My own shop’s views and sales are down 80% compared to last year and have been since January of this year. I’ve been particularly hit hard by changes that have regionalized search. I live in a part of the country that has a very small population and expensive shipping options. Most of my US sales are now a faint memory. The increase in fees was a tipping point (not the crux of the issue). At this rate I’m wondering how long I will be able to continue to run my Etsy shop. Luckily I have other sales channels in place.
Taryn Silver, Etsy seller, shopper & team organizer
The proposed changes have made me seriously rethink my business plan on opening an Etsy store. I am really wondering if it would be worthwhile to me now with the massive increase in fees.
In spite of paying more attention to my shop, using Instagram to promote new items, attending a local Etsy event, and posting new items more often, my sales have tanked over the last year – ever since the last Canada Post strike in fact. To have Etsy add extra fees, and in particular, a new fee on shipping, could be the nail in the coffin for my shop. I have no control over what I pay for shipping. Some of my items are large and heavy. I will post items with a reduced price (compared to like items on Etsy) in order to try to offset the “what the hell?” response when customers see my shipping estimate. In Canada, we have to estimate a shipping cost that will cover potential buyers from coast to coast, because Canada Post charges us by destination, not just weight and size. And Etsy wants to charge me an extra 5% because they think I’m tempted to gouge customers by adding to my shipping charges? How does that make ANY sense? I am scrupulous about refunding shipping overages, and I’m upfront about my policies about that. I’ve appreciated the Etsy platform and the opportunity to have my own shop, but I’ve stopped buying new stock, and will join the Etsy strike and shutter my shop the day the new fees come into play.
Susan Brown, Etsy seller
I actually left Etsy a few years ago because I saw the tides changing. I have a love for Etsy because of everything they taught me as a young business owner. I never would have the understanding of how to run a handmade business if it were not for their free information and open community. But as they became more corporate the information and sense of community disappeared… so I disappeared from Etsy!
Morgan, Shopper & former seller
I was sad when Etsy announced their IPO. I knew it was the beginning of the end – shareholders profits become the decision maker and when profit rules the bottom line, values become fluid for a lot of folks. Compromises once thought to be unthinkable, suddenly don’t seem to be that big of a deal. Etsy will survive, but it will never be the same.
What matters to me the most is the general direction Etsy has been heading in over the years. I refer to mass produced Ali Express items that have flooded the Etsy site. They are cheapening the entire Etsy experience. Many times they are featured as a item on a main sale page (really? Etsy, my god!) I see shops with 15K sales just buying in bulk and reselling the items for a large markup. People buy, say it is a pair of stud earrings, they are happy until the “stone” falls off the first time they wear them. They have already written a positive review. Not many people will even bother to go back and amend a review so all 5 stars pile up.
Why do I care? I care because as these items sell over and over again they dominate searches. True silversmiths, seamstresses, good hardworking artists that make a CHOICE to follow Etsy’s policies are not even being seen by the customer. This trickle down will, and has, resulted in a different customer base. Etsy needs to be ETSY, not Ali-baba, not Amazon. I fear Etsy has lost it’s identity. The one on one between the shopper and a crafter, artist, etc…. that is what made Etsy SPECIAL. I hope a balance between profit and selling your soul can be reached. This is not to be taken lightly. The new AI search WILL continue to rate these items as great, and handmade is going to die a slow, no wait, a quick death. It is barely breathing now. One other point. PUSHING free shipping is not giving Etsy an identity. I think you want to sell this company to one of the big boys. Before I get angry, I’ll stop my futile rant. Etsy lover since 2009.
Anne, Etsy seller & shopper
Changes to the values at Etsy are extremely important to me as a maker/seller and a shopper. I have been selling my handmade goods on Etsy since 2009 and have gone through many iterations of my products and shop. I have seen a lot of changes happen over the years, many of which have consistently impacted my business, many in a negative way. When I first began on Etsy, I was getting consistent sales and views to my shop, but as the homepage changed and new policies took place, my views and sales declined drastically. It feels like many of the community aspects that first drew me to Etsy have slowly declined and been removed altogether (remember Treasuries?). The Etsy of today is very different from the one that existed when I started selling there.
I chose to sell on Etsy because of the community aspect, the support, the beautiful interface, and the robust search engine. I choose to make purchases on Etsy because I can buy handmade and socially responsible goods that were made with love and without unfair and unjust manufacturing practices. I don’t want to have to worry about whether I am indeed getting something handmade (which is now a concern when shopping on Etsy). I’m committed to supporting small businesses that support families and are socially and environmentally conscious. Changes in the values of Easy would determine whether or not I decide to continue selling that platform and shopping there as well. I believe that at it’s very core, Etsy should be represented by the makers – all of us who create the foundation upon which it is built. That is why it is mandatory that sellers be represented at the highest level of decision making and that senior staff be accountable directly to makers. This should be top priority.
Kimberly Kling, Etsy seller & shopper
Below is a comment that was not submitted as a statement but left on the original call to action. Both this comment and many in this Etsy forum thread offer the perspective of makers as capitalists:
It’s very difficult to take all of this seriously when you don’t appear to even know the difference between a strike and a boycott. Most of these proposals are straight out of a 60’s commune, and not sustainable in any meaningful way in today’s economy. While it appears that you have put a lot of work into this, your energy might be better spent developing your own commune…er…online marketplace, instead of trying to “fix” things that aren’t broken.
All Etsy makers are capitalists, or they wouldn’t be there. It only makes sense for the landlord (not partner, not sweetheart, not employer, not Santa Claus) that is Etsy should be capitalists, too, with all that implies. If you’ve taken the time to examine the Etsy forums on any subject of your choosing, you will see that this collection of makers couldn’t be more diverse in their opinions about selling, privacy, Etsy mission, artistic expression, Etsy management, price hikes, etc., etc. THIS is the type of people that you’d like to be your representatives/advocates/advisors to Etsy Admin??
Rob Kalin’s Etsy is long gone, and all the fancy words in the world won’t bring it back. It was not practical then, and it certainly isn’t now.
You have described a utopia that cannot achieve what you are looking for. All it takes to illustrate this is a look at the ratio of non-support to support in the comments section here. It’s even more evident in the current thread about this website in the Etsy Discussion forum. There’s your “voting capacity into new forums” that you’ve asked for. It doesn’t think much of your ideas.
You mention that you “will not be publicly aligning myself with the company” unless they honor your demands. Please don’t. I believe you are sincere, and I admire your drive and enthusiasm, but as a maker I don’t want you speaking for me or dictating what I should want from my marketplace landlord.
Carol, commenter on original call to action